India’s Strategic Imperatives in Africa and the New World Order

Thu, 14 Jan 2021 Debnath Shaw (Former Ambassador)
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Africa, the world’s second-largest and second most-populous continent after Asia, is no longer in the backburner on the global strategic calculus. More than nine times the size of India, with similar levels of population and demographic profile, economic output, and some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, Africa demands India’s undivided attention.

Why is Africa important to India? Africa’s huge landmass and geographical position on the western littoral of the Indian Ocean gives it an unassailable position in India’s foreign and security policy debate and direction. An abundance of energy, land, mineral resources and a sizeable market, makes it attractive to India and other fast-developing large countries. Africa’s homegrown radicalization may deepen linkages with other groups in western Asia, if not checked, and is, therefore, a source of concern for India.

African nations, individually and collectively look to partner with India in their quest for security and development. Indian partnership is sought on account of its growing economy, its capability as a net security provider, its competitive health and education sectors which benefit Africa, and its prowess in agriculture, business, infrastructure and training. Africa increasingly sees India as a tacit counterbalance to the growing influence of China, the US and other major powers, active on the continent.

A structured and goal-oriented Africa policy was set in motion by India in 2003-04 and formalised at the First India Africa Forum Summit (IAFS-I) held in New Delhi in April 2008. By the time the third Summit IAFS-III was held in New Delhi in October 2015, the biggest diplomatic event staged in India in over three decades, India’s Africa strategy was fairly mature and fruitful. India began to be taken as a serious and reliable partner by all 54 African nations present at the Summit, with over 40 at the HOS/HOG level. The rest of the world also took note of India’s renewed vigour and status in Africa.

Sensing the need to further streamline and articulate India’s Africa policy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the Ugandan Parliament in July 2018 spelt out the Ten Guiding Principles on India’s engagement with Africa. These principles primarily denote the primacy of Africa in India’s overseas friendship and partnership, desire to extend our helping hand without any conditions or based on debilitating competition and rivalry, and our desire to work together with Africa for a just, representative and democratic global order.

Let us examine briefly some facets of India’s engagement with Africa, and ascertain what has been achieved, what we can do better or gaps that need to be filled.

Our commitment to Africa is represented by four pillars:

  • Development partnership
  • Trade and investment
  • Strong people-to-people ties, particularly in areas like education and capacity building for young Africans
  • Defence and maritime security

Development partnership is represented by India’s technical and financial support for projects and businesses in Africa through grants and soft loans in the form of Lines of Credit (LoC). After some hiccups in the initial stages, this partnership has shaped well particularly after 2015. A total of 189 projects have been undertaken in 37 countries of which 77 projects are under execution with a total outlay of USD 12.86 billion [Foreign Secretary’s Remarks at UNSC open debate on, “Challenges of Maintaining Peace and Security in Fragile Countries” held on 06 January 2021,], Financially, India may not be able to match the scale of more prosperous countries active on the continent like China or the USA, but we must ensure that we deliver what we promise. Therefore, India should not overextend its helping hand in Africa, not try to match others and commit only what it can deliver.

Our trade policy has been laid down in the Indian Prime Minister’s third Principle, which promises greater market access to Africa and supports to Indian industry to invest in Africa. As a start, 33 African LDCs are participating in the duty-free, quota-free import regime offered by India. This regime needs to be expanded and fine-tuned to take into account concerns expressed by some African countries, including on non-tariff barriers. Cumulative Indian investment of USD 54 billion has created hundreds of thousands of jobs in Africa. India is also extending debt relief in the pandemic period to African countries under a G-20 initiative.

India-Africa people-to-people ties have been forged over centuries through trade and diaspora links across the Indian Ocean, which both separates and joins the two continents. Thousands of African students have been hosted on our shores and many of them are occupying high government, professional and business positions. In the past three decades, under an expanding scholarship scheme administered by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), deserving and meritorious students from Africa are placed in key universities, colleges and other higher educational institutions in India for undergraduate, postgraduate and research programmes. Besides, thousands more come to India from Africa for studies under various self-financing schemes open to foreign students. India’s ITEC (India Technical and Economic Cooperation) programme has been extended to thousands of young professionals and scholars from Africa for short and long term training programmes, fully paid for by the Government of India (GoI). At the IAFS-III in October 2015, India committed 50,000 more such scholarships over five years. These have been fully utilized within the first four years. However, GoI continues to support further ITEC and similar training programmes for African candidates to date.

In the digital domain, India has set up several centres of excellence in information technology and ITES, including four regional centres catering respectively to the countries in the northern, southern, eastern and western parts of the continent. We have extended tele-education (e-Vidyabharati) and telemedicine (e-Arogyobharati) extensively over 33 participating countries in Africa. The telemedicine facility also caters to training programmes for doctors, nurses and paramedics. In the Covid pandemic situation in 2020, India supplied critical medicines to 35 countries in Africa and pledged USD 15 million to GAVI, which is arranging the supply of vaccines to the most vulnerable populations of the world, including in Africa.

The 3 million strong Indian Diaspora, settled all across Africa, most of whom have made Africa their home, provide strong linkages to the growing people-to-people relations between us, as also avenues for increasing our trade and investment volumes. India has been fairly successful in the execution of the third pillar of its Africa strategy on ties between the peoples of India and Africa, and education and capacity building of young Africans. This is evident from the number of people visiting India and vice versa and the huge demand for Indian scholarships and ITEC training programmes.

While some form of defence cooperation has existed from the time most of Africa became independent nations in the 1960s and 1970s, and India established diplomatic relations with the new countries, it has taken off only in the last decade or so, especially on maritime security.

Until a few years ago, India’s defence and security role in Africa was largely confined to capacity building of the armed forces of several countries through training programmes held in beneficiary countries, and officers and staff of various African military forces being trained in Indian military institutions. Counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism training is also imparted. African peacekeeping troops have been regularly participating in training programmes at the Centre for UN Peacekeeping (CUNPK) in India. India has also assisted a number of African countries in setting up staff and command colleges. Indian military training teams are stationed in a few countries.

Another aspect of India’s security involvement has been in assisting disturbed countries in Africa, through participation in UN peacekeeping missions. In Africa, India is the second-largest troop contributor after Ethiopia. India has an assessed financial contribution of USD 11 million towards UN peacekeeping operations. The contribution of our troops to peacekeeping in the Congo, Somalia, Liberia, Burundi and Sudan is well appreciated. Almost 70% of the 173 Indian troops martyred in the line of peacekeeping duties have laid down their lives in Africa. [EAM’s remarks at the 15th CII-Exim Bank Digital Conclave on India-Africa Project Partnership, 22.09.2020]. In the post-conflict situation, we have offered our assistance for socio-economic rebuilding and development.

Peace, prosperity, stability and security are gaining ground in much of Africa, but there are countries particularly in the Sahel region (Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso), Central Africa (DRC, CAR) and the Horn of Africa (Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan) that continue to face complex challenges. The Covid-19 pandemic has aggravated the situation. International terrorism has been on the rise in Africa. Terrorist groups particularly Boko Haram and Al Shabab with linkages to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, have been using Africa as a recruiting ground for jihad. India is primarily concerned with those instabilities directly affecting the maintenance of peace and stability, which are fuelled by terrorism and organized crime, particularly piracy. This has led to a significant scaling of the presence of the Indian Navy in the East African coastal areas from the Gulf of Aden to the Mozambique Channel.

A recent phenomenon has been maritime security cooperation. The Indian Ocean which links our landmass has acquired even greater salience in the India-Africa security architecture. Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) is India’s doctrine of maritime security and cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), which includes many east and southern African countries and island states like Mauritius, Madagascar, Seychelles and Comoros. Under this doctrine, the Indian Navy has assisted countries in the IOR with exclusive economic zone surveillance, search and rescue operations and other such activities. HADR (Humanitarian Assistance & Disaster Relief) missions and hydrography surveys are being extensively utilised to boost our maritime cooperation.

Maritime domain awareness is increasingly becoming critical for coastline safety, securing the sea lanes of communication and protecting one’s legitimate assets on the sea. In this regard, India is keen to assist partner countries in the IOR to enhance their capacity and capability to monitor the situation in their waters. India has assisted Mauritius and Seychelles, among other countries, to enhance their coastal radar surveillance capacities and has also provided vessels, helicopters and aircraft for this purpose. It extended maritime security cover to Mozambique during the AU Summit in 2003 and during the World Economic Forum in Maputo in 2004. The Indian Navy has been engaged in constabulary duties in the Gulf of Aden since 2008 to tackle the menace of piracy.

The 2050 Africa Integrated Maritime Awareness Strategy (AIMS) underpins the fact that Africa sees the importance of maritime security and cooperation. It seeks to build capacities in African states to exert greater control of their geographical space including water, by

  • Curbing diverse illicit activities in the seas, like toxic waste dumping, discharging of oil, trafficking of humans and drugs and armed robbery, including piracy
  • Addressing issues related to energy exploitation, climate change, environmental protection and the conservation of life and property at sea
  • Supporting research, innovation and development
  • Building a thriving maritime economy and to realize the full potential of sea-based activities.

Both the African Union’s  Agenda 2063 and AIMS are springboards for identifying areas of cooperation with external actors. The eighth Principle in Prime Minister’s address to the Ugandan Parliament commits India to work with African nations to keep the oceans open and free for the benefit of all nations. PM said the world needs cooperation, not competition to secure the safety and security of the space in the eastern shores of Africa and the eastern Indian Ocean. That is why India’s vision of Indian Ocean Security is cooperative and inclusive, rooted in security and growth for all in the region. We will have to find the ideal path to combine India’s SAGAR with Africa’s AIMS, and devise maritime security structures of mutual benefit to both.

In the evolving New World Order, India welcomes the rise of Africa as a key factor in the contemporary world. In his remarks at the 15th CII-Exim Bank Digital Conclave on India, Africa Project Partnership held on 22 September 2020, Dr S. Jaishankar, External Affairs Minister of India said, “For India, Africa’s rise as one of the global system’s poles is not just desirable, it is absolutely necessary. It is fundamental to our foreign policy thinking. Broader global rebalancing is incomplete without the genuine emergence of Africa.” India will work together with African and other like-minded countries towards a fairer global governance system, equitable global economic order and a development agenda for the benefit of the people.

India is conscious of the fact that Africa has many options for partnership in its path of growth, development and prosperity and India is not the only one. We aim to be an open, transparent partner without any baggage or preconditions. Our model of cooperation with Africa is demand-driven, consultative, participative, involving local resources, building capacities, and is based on Africa’s prioritization of its needs.

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Naveen Singh Rawat

Jan 26, 2021
Thank you for providing the complete and comprehensive information about India's African policy and its present and future perspective.

Dr. Ronald D'Mello

Jan 16, 2021
A very informative, analytical yet concise article by Ambassador Shaw. In my view the African continent has suffered a lot, first at the hands of the colonizers and now due to rampant corruption, dictatorships, debt-trap financing interested only in looting their natural resources. India here can play a vital role with clear sincere intentions and create win-win partnerships all over Africa although there are already many success stories of partnership with India.


Jan 15, 2021
India should accept the invitation to get associated with Africa with an open mind!

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